Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A heart divided

[Recording located at end of post]
Swamped, overwhelmed, too many possibilities ... however you say it, I feel unsettled and in need of directional guidance. I've had a few conversations, but they weren't satisfying. I've considered a Quaker clearness committee, when a small group deeply listens, questions and reflects back where God is at work in your life – when running right, it can be a gift.

Then I understood part of my problem has been ramping up into high gear and NOT beginning the day with a candle and prayer. I can NOT not do that. Maybe a day here and there, but not any kind of streak. I must let Spirit set my course, not busyness.

I found the candle and matches, flipped open the journal, slid in a favorite yoga CD and put on a slideshow of my favorite images. That was a deal-breaker: settling into some silence, listening and just being with God. I flipped back to some entries from the beginning of the year when I was on retreat – the one where the flu appeared the minute I relaxed and it wasn't quite what I had anticipated.

I re-read passages about:
– a prayer for me from the retreat director about letting new creativity flow;
– not sinking into fear;
– living life, not measuring it and letting it become a prayer (Thomas Merton);
– using what God has given me instead of focusing on what's lacking;
– bowing to Jesus and giving up the wisdom of the world (Quaker John Woolman);
– not letting society or the prospects of money lure me off center;
– that each day is "given" and that we receive it without control;
– that when so many needs call, we must examine their roots; and
– that our struggle is to learn to walk the narrow way quietly.

As I was reading, I focused on two of my favorite images, particularly one of an embryo, inspired by a friend's pregnancy. This time, I sensed it was me and all of the time I was incubating inside during the early days of motherhood when I severely struggled with fibromyalgia. The images doesn't fit me any more. I have emerged and returned to the world. I need a more powerful visual, one in which I feel empowered by Spirit. Before I got to that, I just had to work out walking the narrow way quietly on paper in pastel.

How do I weed out what is not on my narrow path?

Well, yesterday, I began by spending time in prayer and art-making, not to-do lists, e-mails, phone calls and work. My prayer became:

Lord, how can I best let you shine through me?
So many irons in the fire,
so many needs,
so many options
Where do you want me?
This going back out into
the world is difficult.
It pulls me away
from you and toward
practical, daily matters.
How can I keep you with
me as I return?
How can I keep my balance?
Know my direction?

I mournfully waxed over the people with whom I have felt disappointment for not directing me, letting that dissolve into the pure joy of looking at the art I create when totally engaged with God and not the world; returning to what is simple and elemental: you and me, I said to God.

I fixated on that in-utero baby and how it can't stay in forever, just as one can not eternally remain in the center of the labyrinth. It is designed as a respite and then we must return to the world – transformed. My current dilemma, I discerned in the silence, is growing pains and feel I have no human parent. Simultaneously, I remembered the ministry I named at the conclusion of a two-year program for spiritual nurture: gatherer of hearts.

How can I gather hearts when mine is divided? I can unify it when I begin the day acknowledging it is shaped by Spirit and I must listen before I engage.

• What is my auto-response when I feel overwhelmed?
• Where do I turn first?
• How long does it take to understand this condition is often a separation from Spirit?
• When I return, what changes?
• What spiritual practice helps me maintain that connection?

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Who says worship's only for church?

[Recording located at end of post]
Imagine a place where kindness is the norm. Where people smile, hold doors and let those with crutches and in wheelchairs go first. Where employees ask what they may do to be helpful and mean it. Where all walks of life meet, mostly in unsettling circumstances. Where Zen-like instrumentals waft through uncluttered, futuristic passageways, a daily schedule of art and music is posted, large-scale paintings, sculpture and photography adorn the stunning architecture of the campus. Where Parisian sweets and simple sushi are available. Where ego seems to take a backseat to need.

In a hospital of all places. My visit this week with my parents to the Cleveland Clinic astounded me. Especially when compared to my mother's last-summer stint in a local hospital that was doomed from the moment we entered the ER room as someone was vomiting all over the corridor and no one wanted to clean it up. As a matter of fact, no employee, save a few nurses, wanted to do much of anything for anyone, let alone the patient, the last person on their totem pole of pecking order.

That experience reveals everything wrong with healthcare, but the Cleveland Clinic is a bright example of how business can get it right. Very right.

Just the idea that an experience typically anxious and angst-ridden could be calmed by a quiet, interwoven attitude of care, nurturing, listening and serving on all levels was so invigorating and heartening. Prior to our visit, anyone who'd ever been to the Cleveland Clinic raved about it. I tended not to truly believe it. After all, a hospital is a hospital; at least from my perspective.

We weren't made to wait more than five minutes for any scheduled procedure (of course, we showed up at 7 a.m., so being first was a bonus) or even for the top heart specialist, who spent a good chunk of time talking to and listening to my parents, treating them as relevant. I was sickened last summer at the condescending attitude toward older people at the local hospital. The consulting physician told me several times that he didn't think my parents understood what he said and that my mother kept asking him the same question. I know it's because he never answered her. Ohhh, that still burns me. He also relayed many other things founded on ego and not truth.

The reverence of kindness at the clinic lingered in the hallways long after patients and staff had passed. I don't think I've ever been anywhere so large and institutional when the population was so congenial. More surprising given the nature of why people were there.

There is a culture of kindness at the Cleveland clinic that, for me, began when I approached desk A-17 a eight-til-seven in the morning as Stephanie was disinfecting her seat and warming up her computer. I told her I'd give her time to catch her breath as I knew we had arrived early. She worked to finish more quickly and began the admission before her official starting time.

Perhaps, the smiling, though chilly young man opening our car doors as we arrived on a steely cold morning should have been a clue. All we had to do was toss him the keys and walk in, which was good for my mother, who does not tolerate dropping temperatures.

I am certain, there are blights on the Cleveland Clinic's sterling reputation, but it is such a breath of fresh air and such a contradiction to most health-care settings I have witnessed.

It gives me hope. Hope that this is a better model for how health care can be done; not dictated by egos and insurance companies. Hope that people can make the best out of difficult circumstances when given an example. Hope that kindness can rule, even become the norm.

Of course, I don't want to become sick, but I'd sure like to visit the Cleveland Clinic again -- just to check that what I experienced was real. It'a so much easier to go back out into the cold world warmed by the experience and bring it to the people and places I will touch.

• When was the last time I was touched by human compassion?
• What difference have I observed a thread of kindness making?
• Especially within an institutional setting?
• How does a common experience, especially a difficult one, trigger compassion in us?
• Where have I witnessed Spirit at work in a typically secular venue?

whipping in on
an icy swirl
from the lake

unsure and

going as
the dutiful

my vulnerability
in places of disease

then being
totally surprised
as Spirit's 

form shone
in accommodating
faces, friendly
gestures and
genuine caring

who says
worship's only
for church?


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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Soothing the soul nerves

[Recording located at end of post]
Anxiety and anger: What's the difference? What's the connection. Seems like an odd thing to be on my mind in the midst of success with my Artsy Fartsy arts' exploration for at-risk kids and recent word that the program has received another modest grant from a BIG source.

And yet I find it so. Haven't we all found ourselves in the middle of utter bliss when something gnaws at us. A recent astrology reading, my first, with a credible source, may have prompted it for me. Or , perhaps, I am ready to take this on right now, open and trusting because of the flow of grace in my life. The author, astrologist and Jungian expert with a Ph.D from Yale had a few things to reveal about the topics. I wonder what of these may speak to you as well:

Specifically anxiety:
• You have a golden understanding of the nature of the physical body, the mind and emotions and an emotional connection now called psycho-neuro immunology or soul nerves. [This may be what I am trying to unearth in this post.]
• You experience issues with nerves and chronic illness, but not forever, and enjoy ways to rejuvenate. 
• You have lots of nervous energy you must let go.
• Trouble sleeping is caused by not venting your energy enough; it builds if not expressed or blocked.
• When ambient anxiety shows up, it means the mind-body-spirit connection is not working together.
• Swimming (for me, it may be something else for you) burns off nervous energy; you can not underdo physical activity.

Specifically anger:
• Appreciate your anger as assertiveness. Don't REpress it, EXpress it inappropriately, but CONfess it in journals or with a resonator, someone who can hear and hold those feelings.
• Illness arises out of anger that turns around and affects the nerves; if things fester, health problems show up.

The connection/disease:
• Soul is asking you to understand the inner urges and not over do in your life; you can be too demanding of yourself; there are positive ways to deal with it so it doesn't manifest as disease.
• Getting to the root of the problem is required for healing
• When you hear the negative animus, the voice of judgment, it means you given up too much; ask others to pick up the burden.
• Your have a propensity for making mountains out of mole hills: be aware that it's just your nature.

Torn between the two emotions today, I began writing out a prayer, understanding that the anxiety that has bruised my sleep the past few nights is unexpressed anger. That is after I swam a mile to burn some of it off. I ranted and raved at God to let off steam, read it out loud, screamed and began to simmer down. To release and be ready to listen and understand what's happening. Apparently my soul nerves had had enough input and needed output before they exploded.

I think I am teaching myself that it's ok to express these feelings as confession. I only learned repression, possibly because I crave serenity and harmony in my life. I would cower in the dark, quiet basement when, at 16, my twin sister, would argue with my parents. So, I stuffed some of the anger in. That was also a year I struggled with IBS. Hum? I am now finding creative ways to unplug years of eating my anger.

Personally, I see the anxiety-anger connection as a barometer. If I am anxious, then something obviously is pent up. Pretty often I believe it's anger. Several years ago I decorated a black-and-white speckled composition book with a giant M, creating my mad journal. So this isn't all new to me. God has slowly been opening me to my disease. I need it in small chunks at the right time, otherwise, it's just lost on me.

I believe the astrology reading and its lessons came at the appropriate time, as well.

So now that I'm pretty well over my madness and anxiety, I am beginning to realize valuable lessons and that Spirit has been beside me all along this roller-coaster ride called life. Thank heavens!

• How does anxiety show up in my life?
• How does anger?
• What connection is there for me?
• What lessons can I learn?
• How do I see Spirit's imprint in all of this?

awakened and

racing to the
pool to swim
it off

much of it
not all

so I sit,
light a candle
and babble

on and on
in my journal
to God

when things
lift and

trading loneliness
for lightness
and lessons

finding my
soul nerves

and me,
smiling my

Listen to this post:

Friday, February 15, 2013

Occupied by Spirit

[Recording located at end of post]
Sunday’s formal message in worship focused on how to center, as Quakers say, meaning to sink deep into listening for Spirit. I am certain it was prompted by a conversation the week before among a lively group of experienced worshippers and newcomers trying to figure it out. It was a blessing and reminded me that it had once been difficult for me, too.

Something had primed me for Sunday and it took no time to slide in to that space where I heard the minister’s words, they registered, but I could smile and know I was somewhere else. A breathy giggle arose when the minster talked about being “occupied by spirit.” I already was – gratefully.

A three-hour astrological reading Friday, I am certain, prepped me for the hour of worship. That may sound like heresy, but it’s not. The female voice on the other end of the line holds a Ph.D from Yale; she’s no quack. I’m still combing through the 50 pages of notes, assimilating and responding. Recorded disks will arrive shortly, but I can’t wait. Basically, she confirmed my spiritual connection, intuition and ability to transcend my interior. That’s why worship comes easily. A dozen years of practice also doesn’t hurt.

One of my gifts, I have sensed and the astrologer confirmed, is having these experiences and being able to communicate them.

I understand there are as many ways to respond to God as there are individuals, so I don’t claim mine is the path for everyone. But, at least, I have the ability to explain how I center. I have also meditated and it is far more than that. It is an emptying, but also a refilling of Spirit. For me meditation always stopped short of that. Here’s my method:

Closing my eyes, I visualize that I ampeeling back the layers of my heart, one by one,clearing away distraction and thought.Think of peeling thin, fragile and translucentonion skins, attempting to reach the core.Following my breath, I let it plug my braininto my heart instead of the opposite,
as when I am conscious in regular, livingmode. I imagine a place in the back of my heart,a rather secret compartment, between myshoulder blades. When I reach it, I shudderwith a particular sensation, unlike any other …a kind of healing that carries a sharpness, an alertness,so I am not quite melting into it. There is a fine distinctionbetween it and surrender.  Untapped energy resides here,lulling me into a relaxed attentiveness of being completelyhere, but  also aware of what’s transpiring around me.It resembles that state between dreaming and waking.I can listen, but be deeply present. It’s a restorative place,
much like laying my head in Spirit’s lap as I do incentering prayer. To arrive in this spot, I must
intuitively feel my way in, locate the back door,the one behind my heart and empty myself, surrendermyself. That means quieting my brain, letting it rest, sothat my soul arises to meet God within.

Oh, and when I can do this, REALLY do this (well, when grace is at work), I am so at peace, feeling the bliss, the unity of love. This is a wonderful state. On occasion, there is more as there was Sunday. I am transported back to an ancient, timeless realm.  Images arise, mostly fragments and flashes, a sort of message that will take some time to assimilate. I had four of those:
• A small group of shepherds or gatherers, crouched together under cloaks inside the mouth of a cave, waiting.
• A view of a very large and powerful white bird, its talons shackled, breaking free and ascending.
• Two weathered stone tablets broken apart with symbols or numbers and an inked heart torn at the break, half resting on each tablet.
• A folk icon of Jesus, crudely rendered, laying on its side on a piece of wood with wings, floating away.

When I quickly sketched these images on a church bulletin, the mouth of the cave became the thumb and index fingers forming the opening with the wrist and hand extending back. A rough translation, which means nothing to me right now is:
people are waiting in God’s hands, as spirit is freed, the secret of the heart revealed as the image of Jesus is no longer needed. I sense a freeing spiritual energy that’s not slave to tradition.


• How do I worship?
• What methods do I use to listen to God?
• What helps me center?
• Can I find where God resides within?
• How has practice helped?

 Listen to this post:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A good God day

[Recording located at end of post]
Experienced another of those flowing kind of days this week ... enough to realize I am not out of the Spirit-filled rush I began to feel late last fall and seemed to lose during a week of illness.

Upon analysis, which I am wont to do, I understand I began my day knowing it would be wonderful. It did not disappoint.

Obviously, I had been looking forward to the invitation to join area directors of community arts centers for their bi-monthly meeting, even if I am just a novice with a single, developing program. I imagined feeling more in community after months of slogging it somewhat alone. Or, with, at least, that perception in my mind.

My husband urged me to leave earlier than the 30 minutes I'd allotted, yet I wasn't compelled to push it getting ready, so I didn't have much time to spare. There was traffic, I hit most stop lights and it seemed I would be a tad late, maybe five minutes. I wasn't jostled by this for some, unexplained reason. I enjoyed the drive, even the energy of the late rush hour. Not even nervous when the sheriff's cruiser followed me more than several blocks, turning shortly before I reached my destination. Guess what? There was a parking space right out in front and I had plenty of quarters for the meter. Blessing, definitely.

The table was large and astoundingly full, more the two dozen bodies. I had thought it would be an intimate group. As you would expect, there was one seat left as far from the door as you could imagine, next to the guy facilitating the meeting. I waltzed right up. He'd been my initial contact at the organization and coached me through a grant proposal. I felt very comfortable.

The meeting, for me, was rich and opened new, juicy possibilities. I also realized everyone in that room had once been in my shoes. As they planned a collective community arts centers' day, I asked if fledgling groups could participate and was answered with a resounding affirmation and empathetic sighs.

I lingered, eager to soak up the ambiance and make a few connections. One of the organization's members asked if my contact had given me a grant-status update. I responded no and she led me to him. I am a patient person and had been willing to wait for the letter. "Fully-funded" he said and I was stunned. Mind you, it was a modest sum, but it is a foot in the door of the country's largest private funder of arts organizations and they believe in me and Artsy Fartsy! I wanted to scream it to the rooftops.

Not official, he said; you'll be getting a letter later in the month, but they were really taken with the fact you are working with Milford's only subsidized housing with children. OMG I whispered as a prayer, they get my mission. Not only do they get it, they are going to support it.

It had also been so affirming to learn how many other centers are located in aging, cast-off schools and their journeys to creating community cultural centers. One nearby is a few paces ahead of me with a goldmine of a plan they will graciously share. Blueprints already exist! Again, I felt less alone.

I've been anxious about the tenuous state of Milford Main, the wonderful old school that's home to my studio, Especially anxious after an advisory group charged through last week, stopping at my door to discuss violent scenarios such as tear downs and public auctions. Two days ago, I happened into a building neighbor who'd been absent many months, but been through threatening times before. "Don't worry," he told me and I recognized it as God's voice.

The arts-centers meeting re-affirmed that command.

I floated away from that meeting, gravitating toward the public library since I was already downtown. Again, there was one parking space just in front waiting for me. I sailed up to the third floor in search of a specific book and walked past a private database just for discovering grant possibilities. The study carol was vacant and, almost in disbelief, I enlisted the assistance of a librarian to get me started. Even printing was free! About 80 pages and an hour later, I decided to stop, humbled, grateful and excited by this unexpected gift.

If God isn't making her wishes known that this is my current course, then I have no other explanation for the synchronicity of this day. It reminded me of that November morning in San Antonio when I stumbled onto Afghanistan veterans receiving Segways at the Alamo in one of the most touching experiences of my life.

God really is present and the times we can recognize it carry us through the days when we can not.

• When have I experienced synchronicity?
• How have I felt Spirit's presence in that?
• How do those experiences buoy me in drier times?
• How does this deepen my faith?
• How do I express my gratitude?

drifting through
traffic, carefree,
no worries
about tardiness

claiming my
parking spot in
front, finding
energy in a
new group

as well as
news of

blindly guided
into a wealth
of resources

shedding my

it was a good
God day

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